Michael Herman
Opening Space for Business Agility

 
 
 

The Story of one very Concrete Project in Open Space

Adapted from a piece by Harrison Owen, originator of the Open Space approach.

From one point of view, life in organizations is all about meetings. We spend an incredible amount of time in them, getting ready for them, or just recovering. But at the end of the day, we wonder: "Did it really make a difference? Was that trip truly necessary?" If your answer is "No!" -- then maybe it's time to try a little Open Space.

Recently, major interest has surfaced around "Large Group Interventions," and whenever this subject is raised, Open Space Technology is usually part of the discussion. While it's true that Open Space can handle large groups of people (up to 1000), it works equally well with groups of ten. The value is not in the number, but in the quality of the encounter.

For example, the AT&T project team charged with creating the corporate pavilion for the Olympic Village had invested ten months in planning and design work, for a site on the outskirts of the Village. This was a diverse group of security, architectural, stage lighting and other experts in their fields.

When officials in Atlanta offered AT&T a much larger space, in the center of the Village, with greatly expanded visitor traffic, it immediately became necessary to throw out their ten months worth of work and start anew on a much grander pavilion. The only problem was that they had just six months to get it all done. Some team members were sure this was a disaster in the making.

With chaos nipping at their heels, they chose to operate in Open Space and discovered that a two-day meeting was sufficient to set a new course -- and get back on schedule. They entered Open Space with blank sheets and cell phones ready and emerged two days later with new drawings for a design that would be bigger, better and faster than their old design. Mission accomplished. And, best of all, they actually enjoyed the work experience and were still talking to each other at the end of the intensive sessions. The AT&T executive in charge of the project called it "magic."

We would say "inspired performance," and note, once again, that such results are not exceptional in an Open Space environment.